A Brief History of Riverview Park

Everything Else, Miami Social Activities

Trio enjoying the Neosho River in 1913

Riverview Park opening day celebration. Click to enlarge.

A park area has long existed at the extreme south end of Main Street. Photos can be seen of families at the river’s edge in the teens, just south of the first bridge to span the Neosho, very close to the present-day southern bridge’s location.

But on September 1, 1917, Riverview Park officially opened.

Possibly as early as the teens, a small pool and poolhouse was built close to the edge of the river, just north of where the east dam steps are. While flooding was less common in those days, the river did come out of its banks every few years. When discussions took place regarding the location of a huge new pool in 1929, concern was expressed that it be placed in an area less prone to flooding.

In 1923, the concrete dam was built, forming Lake Miami on the free flowing river, and causing spoonbill to gather in huge numbers at the south side, unable to swim upstream for the first time in history.

The Neosho River dam, Lake Miami, and the poolhouse as seen about 1925

A tourist camp sort of sprang up on its own at the present day site of the park on the east side of the river. These were common in towns when automobiles were becoming more commonplace. A family could park, pitch a tent, and spend the night before moving on the next morning. When the Great Depression hit, it became home to displaced folks who lost their homes. In 1930, the city announced that the tourist camp would be closed, and the folks down on their luck were force to move on.

October 7, 1930: The free city tourist camp would be closing

“A condition of disease, filth, and pilfering exists at the park now which makes a sore on an otherwise clean and healthy city” according to mayor W.L. Rush.

But the process wasn’t instant. A June 1931 editorial bemoaned the fact that transients still had tents pitched and permanent summer homes at the park, displacing residents seeking recreation.

In 1930, that huge new pool opened up, and the fact that it is still used today testifies to its amazing design and quality. Our founders didn’t foresee Pensacola Dam, otherwise they might have located the pool elsewhere, but still, it’s not common for floods to inundate it where it sits.

Article outlining the proposed site of the new city pool at Riverview Park dated April 1, 1930.

By 1932, the park was 50 acres in size, on both sides of the Neosho. Lowland grounds were left unmaintained, and improvements were made to higher areas. Four concrete tennis courts were added that year.

In 1933, an Old Settlers Reunion was held at the park. Attending were Harry Lykins, son of the town co-founder, as well as around 250 residents and their descendants who were around in 1891.

A 1934 newspaper article mentions Sunday school being held at a “big” tabernacle at the park, with expected attendance of 250. It was mentioned again in a 1935 article. But no other mentions were made of that tabernacle that I can find.

In 1937, Riverview Park was home to a small zoo run by Grove resident C.F. Tucker. The zoo had 32 animals when opened. These included a camel, llamas, elk, and reindeer.

1932 newspaper article encouraging visitors to the new city pool

The pavilion building just southwest of the swimming pool was likely built as a WPA project in the 30’s.

Riverview continued to be the city’s gathering place through the 40’s and 50’s. Land acquisitions caused it to periodically increase in size. In the early 60’s, a steel submarine was erected by the WPA-built pavilion. And in 1966, a beautiful Mid Century Modern pavilion was built.

Tug-of-war, probable location is Riverview Park, 1935

Riverview Park continues to be a treasured Miami gathering spot today. The dam, approaching 100 years old, is occasionally seen sticking out of the waters now backed up by Pensacola dam. Fishermen line its banks every spring during spoonbill season. And I’ve observed courageous young men wading the river retrieving lost hooks and sinkers, while big spoonbill bump into them in their travels. The park isn’t quite as old as the city, but will remain a part of it as long as the city lasts.

The Ottawa County Fair

Miami Social Activities

At presstime, what is purported to be the 100th anniversary Ottawa County Free Fair is about to be celebrated.

While that is cause for celebration, it’s also about three years too late. Or is it? Read on.

Article from 1956 giving the early county fair history. Click to enlarge.

Article from 1956 giving the early county fair history. Click to enlarge.

The first fair took place in Miami on September 24, 1910. It was simply an exhibit of farmers’ products, judged as to quality. A somewhat larger exposition was held the next year in October. In 1912, the Farmers Institute and Ladies Auxiliary of Ottawa County voted to hold their exhibition of mineral, stock, and agricultural products on October 3-5 of that year at “Riverside Park,” as the park at the south end of Main was known. The 1913 fair was held at Afton. There was no mention of a fair in 1914, other than a single ad in the Live Wire asking if it should be held. They did that the previous three years as well.

Writeup of the second Quapaw fair, mentioning the previous year’s fair.

The Ottawa County Fair as we know it supposedly began in Quapaw in 1914. Apparently, this event was accompanied by some new legislation outlining county fairs, perhaps that’s why it’s counted as the first. It was a one-day affair, held around the end of September. I can’t find a mention in the papers of ANY county fair in 1914. If there was a Quapaw fair that year, it was a tiny one. However, an article in the Miami Record-Herald in 1915 did mention the Quapaw fair the previous year. By the next year, they had added a day, and it ran October 1-2, 1915. The fair received some state support shortly after. An Ottawa County Free Fair Association was formed, and Miami would have enough pull to convince the board that they should host future fairs. They announced on December 31, 1915 that Miami would be offering a place for the fair to land on a permanent basis.

On January 28, 1916, it was officially announced that the first official Ottawa County Free Fair would indeed be held in Miami on September 18-20 of that year, and that they would also have the right to host the fair the following year. Land was set aside at the present day location of H and East Central.

Buildings were erected, the Yankee Robinson Circus announced that they would set up on the site for the last day, and the celebration began on time. The fair was a rousing success, and plans were immediately made for an even better one the next year.

Plans were announced for more construction, including a race track and a stock show ring. But the land was limited on Central. So a decision was made to move it to Riverview Park (on the east side of the river) for the 1917 fair. True to promise, the 1917 fair was indeed bigger and better. And on March 1, 1918, it was announced that yet another fair would be held that year, despite the US involvement in The Great War.

Sometime in the early 20’s, a decision was made to move the fairgrounds across the river. Buildings were erected, and our familiar fairgrounds began to take shape. A 1927 newspaper photo shows the grandstand and racetrack looking pretty much like it does nowadays. In 1938, a WPA project was announced in which a stone wall would be erected around the racetrack, and two large exhibition buildings would be built.

1944 fair is announced, August 6. Click to enlarge

1944 fair is announced, August 6. Click to enlarge.

When the US entered WWII, it was announced that the fair would be suspended for the duration. But that didn’t turn out to be exactly true. The war was evidently going well enough in 1944 that a fair was announced for August 22-27, with wartime restrictions in effect.

So the fair was skipped in 1942 and 1943. It was skipped one more time, in 1957, due to an anthrax outbreak.

Thus, when you do the math, you can see that there have been 102 instances of the Ottawa County fair since 1914. However, the Ottawa County Free Fair wasn’t formed until 1916. And there have been 100 instances of that particular institution, including the 2019 celebration.

Thus, 2019 is indeed the 100th anniversary of the Ottawa County Free Fair.

1918 Graduation, Miami High School

Miami Social Activities

Cover from the 1918 MHS graduation program

In 1918, there was a war on. The US had joined in on The Great war in 1917, and belts were tightened. Thus, there’s no annual or class picture of the 1918 graduating class.

Page 1, 1918 MHS graduation program

Miami High School, 1917. Thanks to Fredas Cook for the image

The 1917 high school is depicted above, from the Miami Record-Herald.

Page 2, MHS graduation program, 1918

Page 3, MHS graduation program, 1918

Page 4, MHS Graduation program, 1918

There are many familiar names here in the Miami business community. Sons and daughters of manufacturers, barbers, mining magnates, miners, and merchants. Many of these would go on to become familiar Miami names themselves.

Notes on 1918 MHS graduation festivities the day prior to actual graduation

The 1918 seniors went out into a world that would see a 1920’s boom, a 1929 depression, and a 1941 entry into a world conflict. They would see the mining industry play itself out, they would help Miami reinvent itself as a manufacturing center, and they would set their descendants on a course of helping Miami adopt to even more challenging situations in the future. The Miami spirit is indomitable.

Miami’s Teen Town

Miami Social Activities

What to do with all of those teenagers on a Friday night? Miami decided right after the end of WWII to provide some city-sanctioned entertainment and recreation. It was called Teen Town, and it started off at the Sacred Heart Catholic church. But by 1947, it had relocated to the VFW Hall across the street from the Coleman.

Teen Town starts up at the VFW hall, June 22, 1947

The next year, the American legion volunteered to host the Friday night fun.

American Legion to host Teen Town in 1948

By 1956, the event had turned into the most popular place for a kid to be on a Friday night. They needed more adult volunteers!

Teen Town issues a call for volunteers, 1956

The first mention of a live band in the News-Record was on October 12, 1956.

A live band at Teen Town! October, 1956

There were dance competitions, including this one from 1959.

Richard Wright and Helen Swift win 1959 Sweetheart Couple at Teen Town

In 1957, the Youth Center at the new Civic Center was rechristened the Mutt Hut. Eventually, Teen Town at the American Legion hall would move over to the Mutt Hut as a fun teen spot on both Friday and Saturday nights. Teen Town stopped being mentioned in the paper after 1960, so presumably that was the end of it. But the Mutt Hut continued on, and thus Miami had a proud reputation as a town that looked after the recreational needs of its youth.

Professional Baseball in Miami

Miami Social Activities

Once upon a time, before free agency changed everything, towns the size of Miami in the 40’s (9,000 or so) rated their own minor league baseball teams. Back in the day, teams had hundreds of players signed to contracts in minor league tiers that stretched from AAA (the top) to class D (the bottom).

Articles about the Miami Indians, Joplin Globe, April 27, 1921. Click to enlarge

Miami was no exception. 1910 newspapers give accounts of the Miami Indians, but it’s not clear that they were a professional team at that time. In 1921, the Miami Indians were a class D team in the Southwestern League. The Indians disbanded the following year, but were back in 1923.

In 1946, the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League was formed. The KOM League was a collection of D-class teams. The Brooklyn Dodgers announced that the Miami Blues would be their affiliate.

February 15, 1946 article announcing a new local professional baseball league

The team was seeking talent in the spring, signing local players, including miner Lefty Loyd, who pitched for Eagle-Picher’s amateur team. He had a wicked left-handed hook. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, Loyd had left the area. Owner Ted Vernon mailed him a contract, but it was never accepted.

The opening home game was on April 30, 1946. Here’s an advertisement from Mac’s Cafe suggesting that the establishment would be an appropriate spot to meet after the game.

Here are the final 1946 records of the participating teams:

Chanute Owls Topeka, Kansas Owls 68-53
Miami Blues Brooklyn Dodgers 69-54
Iola Cubs Chicago Cubs 63-57
Pittsburg Browns St. Louis Browns 61-59
Carthage Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals 54-66
Bartlesville Oilers Pittsburgh Pirates 47-73

The next year, the team was renamed the Owls. That’s because of a dispute between the Dodgers and Ted Vernon. According to Wikipedia:

Brooklyn assigned a few players to Miami that (1946) season but the team was actually run by Ted Vernon of Amarillo, Texas. When it was discovered that the Miami Baseball Club Inc. had turned the reigns of the operation of the club to Mr. Vernon, W. G. Bramham, the President of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, sent a very stern letter to the Miami baseball officials that the rules had been violated in this matter. The next year the Dodgers moved their franchise to Ponca City, Oklahoma and Mr. Vernon returned to Amarillo.

Miami Owls, 1947

And Miami ended up a farm team to a farm team. They became the Miami Owls, contracted to the Topeka Owls, who were themselves a class C team. Despite their apparent low status, they actually won the league championship in 1947!

In 1949, the Owls lost a tight game thanks largely to the power of the Independence Yanks’ Mickey Mantle.

The league kept going, and in 1950, the Owls became the Eagles, an independent team. But the end was near. After the 1952 season, the KOM League, and all of its teams, folded.

Miami Eagles, 1952

Nowadays, with team payrolls averaging many millions of dollars, minor league towns tend to be much higher populated for the few franchises available. Classes B, C, and D are extinct. But Miami can boast of not only having a professional team, they were also champions of their league.

Miami Owls jersey worn by Kenneth Gladhill